Updated: Nov 21, 2022
"Take time for yourself." "Me time is so important." "You have to help yourself before you can help anyone else." We've all heard these phrases before, but what does that mean for each of us? What does it mean to really take care of ourselves? In order to care for ourselves, we must first know what our self is and what is means to care. To better explore this subject, we'll explore both the definitions of 'self' and 'care'. I'm going to explore this topic in a series of blog posts. This post will tackle the definition of self.
So, what is self? "The self is an individual as the object of its own reflective consciousness." The self is the center of our conscious experience. If you can identify and describe something, it is outside of your 'self'. As such, thoughts and feelings are outside of 'self'. They are experienced by 'self'. They stem from 'self', or may come in from external sources, but they are not internal to one's 'self'. 'Self' is the individual who is experiencing.
I used to struggle with really knowing where I ended and people and things outside of my self began. I truly felt my actions could and did dictate how others responded. I felt at the mercy of things outside of myself 'causing' me to respond in certain ways (this is codependency!). I certainly thought all of the thoughts in my head were from me (scarry... what type of a person allows the crazy thought that pass through my brain!?). I defer back to the definition that my self is observing my experience. If I can describe something (a thought or feeling) it is being experienced by my self. It is not a part of me.
By having a clearly defined self, we are then able to differentiate between myself and the environment in which I live. This is a natural launch point for a conversation about boundaries. There is much to be said about boundaries with other people. What I'm really driving at is boundaries between self, thoughts and feelings. With these all being clearly defined as distinct entities, we can learn to observe them, rather than assume ownership of them. This is a huge weight lifted off of our shoulders! If we can see ourselves as the center of our conscious experience, everything else becomes so much easier.
One analogy for this is to consider getting to know a litter of kittens. At first, you see them as a cute squad of fluff and claws. But as you spend more time with them, you begin to see each one as an individual with their own personality. You learn who likes to be snuggled; who would rather explore; who is an instigator; and who is easily scared or overwhelmed.
The same is true for thoughts and feelings. If we can observe them as they come up, we get to know them better. So how do we get to know our thoughts and feelings? We become curious about them. We allow ourselves to experience them without judgement. We can have some appreciation for where they came from (which is not from within us), what they're telling us, how we'd like to respond to them.
The act of describing something takes the power away from it. It is no longer this big, looming, all-encompassing thing that 'just is'. It becomes an event that we can see and understand for what it is.
This is not to say that thoughts and feelings don't hold weight or importance. They do! But by understanding that they are experienced by our self, we can develop a more objective perspective of them. This allows us to be more deliberate in our actions and reactions. It also allows for more grace; both for ourselves when we make mistakes and for others when they do the same.
By developing a clear definition of self, we are able to set boundaries between our thoughts and feelings. This allows us to be more deliberate in our actions and reactions, and provides more grace for ourselves and others. My next blog post will explore what it really means to care for ones self. What is your definition of self? How do you see it impacting your emotional well-being? Let me know in the comments below!